Lucian Freud, who joined the majority last night, may have been a Freud, but he was more of a Lucian: dashing, lucky, hero to men, a rare mystery to women and, superior to all, like Balthus and Manet, a painter's painter.
If you wonder why Lucian was always putting a fat customs clerk on the couch, look no further than Arnold Schwarzenegger impregnating his homely housekeeper, for Schwarzenegger, like Freud with his ungainly models, needed to have the gaze permanently fixed back at him.
This is evident in his best work, by far, his self-portraits, a trick in which he got to gaze, fixedly and forever, back at himself. I first examined Freud's onanismes at an exhibition of small self-portraits of and by Lucky Lucian at Brooke Alexander Gallery in 1991. They were mesmerizing, lacking the lumpiness of Freud's larger pieces, equaled only by his paintings of dogs (in tandem with more lumpy nudes). There was a lot of dog in Lucian.
If you love yourself obsessively, you really need no one else, and might as well wile away the hours painting same.
The artist most akin to Freud was Samuel Beckett, spareness and austerity in the making being an inside joke, a salty sailor's laugh on the rest of the world, for these distinguished gentlemen, grim reapers both, celebrated the uselessness of empathy. The Bible says, in the person of Jesus, "Judge not lest ye be judged," but Freud responds in the fleshy gray soup of his life studies that one's constant judgment of one's fellow creatures is what keeps us alive, and roughly, dangerously, civilized.
Lucian was the underbelly of modernism, a creaky old soul bent on conquest and damnation, and the envy of us all, because, on each and every day, he got away with it.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).